It's 3am and I'm carefully creeping through the passage of my house in Pietermaritzburg, I hear a noise outside. I'm not sure what it may be, but I'm concerned that thieves are lurking. I live in a student house in Pelham and two months ago I woke up to find my car was on bricks.Yes, it was a little upsetting but I suppose that's what insurance is for and these things can be replaced. What was more concerning was the invasion of my personal space and the realization that had these criminals had other, more sinister motivations I might be a little worse off than having freshly tread tyres.
You hear these stories all the time, I personally know of people who have been robbed at gunpoint in their driveways, shot at on their own property, killed (!) in a botched hijack attempt on the way home from work and all of these people have been good, honest hard-working, church-going South Africans. They contribute(d) to their communities and didn't deserve for these things to happen to them, but that's how life is. Sometimes bad things happen. Unfortunately these bad things seem to be all too prevalent in the places I live and in South Africa in general. Some of these people I know accept that the country has descended too far and now no longer live here. They refuse to live in fear for their lives, whether real or perceived. You cannot block these stories out, they are not hearsay or urban legends, they are real and have life-altering consequences. You just have to pray you avoid these things on a day-to-day basis, like some deranged member of Crime Anxiety Anonymous.
As I creep through my passage, I ask myself whether crime in South Africa is truly out of control. I go to sleep every night and I lock my bedroom door to avoid the nightmare of waking to a dark, menacing shape in the room. We have motion detectors in the garden which, when they ping as they sense motion, wake me up immediately. I sit bolt-upright and this sends me into my nightly ritual. I lurch slowly into the living room and peel back the curtain expecting to find balaclava-clad invaders inspecting the house for weakness, looking for an opportunity or an opening. I am invariably relieved to see a cat pottering about on the lawn which eases my anxiety, but it only ever lasts as long as that next beep of the motion sensor. I'm on medication to calm my nerves but I find it rather alarming the expense and effort people go to gain a comfortable night's sleep, to feel the master in control of their house. Unfortunately not everybody has the luxury to be in control of their home security and even those who do regularly have break-ins.
What has become of us in South Africa? It's not as safe as I or my parents remember and I live in constant worry that something will go wrong and I will ultimately turn into another statistic. A stab-victim, shot in my drive-way or forcefully escorted to my local ATM at screwdriver-point. Crime statistics are seemingly spiralling out of control and the nation appearing to sink into oblivion. Dejected by what the country has become I switch on a DVD to take my mind off things. As it happens, it's the much-loved 1964 classic Zulu starring a young Michael Caine. It tells the story of the Battle of Rorke's Drift in (KwaZulu-) Natal in 1879 in which 150 British soldiers successfully held off a force of 4,000 Zulu warriors, the power of guns over the stabbing spear. Crucially the Zulu warriors were without Lance Klusener and it tells in the end as they run out of istimela steam. As the credits roll down and the Zulus stamp off into the sunset in appreciation of the brave British defence my mind returns to the South Africa we live in today and how this story shares certain parallels with our predicament. How much has South Africa really changed? I say not at al! Crime and violence in South Africa haven't become worse it's just turning returning to how it always was. The anti-social and racist policies of the Apartheid era have simply left white South Africans shielded from what living in Africa is truly all about.
Africa has always been a harsh, survival-of-the-fittest continent a place of raw, primal urges where mankind lives unspoilt by the trappings of western living. It is a place of community where Africans live in close quarters with a large-extended family who, through their numbers, provide a safety and security of their own. To live in Africa is for every day to be an adventure, every day you flirt with invasion or deadly attack. Like Leonardo Di Caprio in Blood Diamond: T.I.A. bru, this is Africa! The fact that we record each of these indiscretions now in the 'modern' world doesn't mean they're a new phenomenon. It just means that in an open society, in this age of information we are learning that the suburban safety of apartheid was a carefully cultivated lie. Our violent crime is proof that South Africa is normal again. This may upset some people, but at the basest level we are just animals. Africa is a raw continent and to excel here requires a man to be equally raw! Unfortunately this realisation upsets the gentle settler who perceived himself as the cultured master of his realm and so we hide in denial of this truth. This new African-ness threatens to dilute our own settler heritage so we form our own cultural Lager's and Rorke's Drifts to shut Africa out to soothe our irrational paranoia. We are just unable to fully embrace this African lifestyle!
What do you do if you find yourself not being able to cope with the truly African experience. Our crime situation is here to stay, the country is too large and there is insufficient political will at the moment to curb it all so all we can do is accept. We also have to accept that violence and the mistreatment of others, that is our true heritage. Whether it be the Mfecane of the Zulus or the Apartheid of the Boers this is the kind of people we are in Africa, this is what it takes to cut it here. So you have a handful of choices here. You can hold firm as a fearful island in this African sea, hoping one day to adapt or for change to come. You move to a place where you feel you belong, or you can buy a gun and shoot to kill on sight.
Me personally, I'm going to Pick 'N Pay to buy a rump steak and an Ak-47. The battery on my motion sensor has died.
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